Thirteen-year-olds P.J. Rausch-Moran, left and Francesca Merrick, right, from the Greater Ithaca Activities Center Summer Conservation Corps program, get instruction from Erich Kruger of Finger Lakes ReUse on how to remove difficult embedded nails as the building recycling takes down an old barn Monday in Fall Creek.

Written by Rachel Stern Ithaca Journal rstern@gannett.com

Instead of blue jeans and green Greater Ithaca Activities Center Conservation Corps T-shirts, Susan Cosentini thought they should wear red capes and blue shorts like Superman.

She suggested this wardrobe change to eight 13-year-olds who were taking apart two old barns on Aurora Street Monday afternoon. The barns, which Cosentini owns, were being dismantled and salvaged to make way for three new sustainable homes to be built on-site.

“Basically, you people are the change agents in the world,” she said to the group of students. “I will be dead when the benefit of all this starts to happen, so hopefully you and your children will benefit from it. By working here today, you are saving the world.”

Finger Lakes ReUse teamed up with the GIAC Summer Conservation Corps to take down the barns and salvage the building materials. Then, Cosentini’s New Earth Living LLC will build The Aurora Dwelling Circle in place of the barns.

The dwelling circle will be made up of one three-bedroom unit and two two-bedroom units, Cosentini said. The theme throughout the whole project, she said, is sustainability.

“We are recycling the materials from the barns, and then using the space to build houses that will hardly use any fossil fuels whatsoever to heat and cool,” she said. “Almost (all) of the landscape will be edible, people will share resources. This is going to be the new paradigm.”

Monday afternoon the sound of hammers, wood falling and nail guns came from behind 523 N. Aurora St. Dressed in blue jeans, boots, goggles and green gloves, 13-year-old Francesca Merrick forced a long nail out of a piece of wood with a crowbar.

Alongside Merrick, P.J. Rausch-Moran struck a nail with a hammer, then flipped the hammer over and pulled the nail out. The members of GIAC’s Summer Conservation Corps were working to de-nail the wood from the barn so that it can be reused. Cosentini paid FingerLakes ReUse for the demolition work. The nonprofit community organization will take most of the wood and sell it at the reuse center for 50 to 90 percent below the price of newer lumber, said Diane Cohen, executive director.

Property owner Susan Cosentini talks to the 13-year-olds in the Greater Ithaca Activities Center Summer Conservation Corps program about her plans to redevelop the space around her home on Aurora Street in the Fall Creek neighborhood.  The youth were working with Finger Lakes ReUse to disassemble the old barns on the property.“Doing it this way reduces the carbon footprint because we have pulled it out and had some community energy to process it and make it ready for resale,” she said. “This is locally produced material, it is being sustainably harvested and so it reduces trucking.”

And it is fun.

Merrick, a student at Lehman Alternative Community School, said she cannot wait to see what the site looks like when it is finished. Though it is hot out and the work is tough, Merrick said she is having a great time.

“It is awesome,” she said. “It is hard work, but it is totally worth it. It is so rewarding and satisfying especially when there is a really hard nail and you can just bang it out and you realize that you just saved a whole pile of wood.”

The students started deconstructing last week and Cohen said she hopes the barns will be completely taken down and salvaged by the end of the week. Then, it will be time for Cosentini to turn the open space into a smaller version of EcoVillage at Ithaca, she said.

A pedestrian walkway will take the place of where a van and trampoline sat on Monday afternoon. The walkway will lead to the new units. Cosentini said the units will be priced between $160,000 and $250,000.

The grounds will have organic gardens, including fruit and nut trees, along with a root cellar, water catchments and will be in downtown Ithaca, so reliance on a car will be greatly reduced, she said.

“When we get rid of the car, we lower our carbon output and then reduce greenhouse gas emissions – which is huge,” she said. “People will be engaged and related in a powerful way.”

Cosentini said she hopes to have residents set in place by the fall, and then break ground in the spring. From there, the building should take about nine months, she said.

In the meantime, the students will continue to de-nail, hammer away and get the wood ready to be reused.

“It all starts with what these kids are doing,” Cosentini said. “They are saving the world with this work.”

To volunteer at Finger Lakes ReUse, emailnina@fingerlakesreuse.org or call 257-9699. For more information on The Aurora Dwelling Circle, email coz@newearthliving.net, call 327-1081, or visit newearthliving.net.